BY FREDA MIKLIN
On December 23, 2022, Arapahoe County District Judge Elizabeth Volz awarded Aurora City Council Member Danielle Jurinsky $3 million in her lawsuit against Robin Niceta, a former Arapahoe County Department of Human Services (DHS) worker, for knowingly making false charges of child abuse against Jurinsky in retaliation for her public criticism of Niceta’s then partner, Vanessa Wilson, who was Aurora’s Chief of Police at the time. Niceta, who is facing criminal charges stemming from the incident, did not file a response in the lawsuit.
The $3 million was calculated based on Volz’s determination that Niceta should pay Jurinsky for “harm to reputation, humiliation, and emotional distress,” at the rate of $100,000 per day for the 15 days of the child abuse investigation she was forced to undergo, and an additional $1.5 million in exemplary damages as a message that behavior like Niceta’s “cannot and should not be tolerated.”
The judge’s order also said, “The court finds that the conduct was especially egregious since it was done by a person tasked with protecting children and knew full well that her false report would result in an investigation and potential separation of a young vulnerable child and a parent, with unknown potential harm to that child.” Additionally, Judge Volz reportedly termed Niceta’s behavior “willful and wanton,” and undertaken with “actual malice.”
All indications are that the chain of events leading to the judgment entered against Niceta and for Jurinsky began on January 27, 2022, when Jurinsky, in a radio interview, criticized Wilson’s performance as Aurora Police Chief, including calling her, “trash.”
The next day, Niceta is alleged to have phoned in an anonymous tip to the DHS child abuse hotline, alleging that she had seen Jurinsky touch her two-year old son inappropriately at an earlier time. That “tip” led to a 15-day in-depth investigation of Jurinsky that she has characterized as emotionally traumatic and embarrassing.
On February 14, DHS investigators issued their finding that Jurinsky had not done anything wrong, which led authorities to begin to look into the tip that launched the investigation. In a matter of weeks, they found significant evidence implicating Niceta. In May, she was charged with multiple crimes, including false reporting and retaliating against a public official. In the weeks between the end of the investigation of Jurinsky and charges being filed against Niceta, Wilson was fired from her position as police chief for performance reasons and Niceta resigned from her job at DHS, after being questioned about these events by investigators.
Niceta pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges on December 12, 2022. She is scheduled to go to trial on May 9, 2023.
On August 24, Jurinsky filed suit in Arapahoe County District Court against the DHS Division of Child and Adult Protection Services, Niceta in her official capacity as an employee of DHS, Michelle Dossey, in her official capacity as Niceta’s boss, and the Arapahoe County Board of County Commissioners, which oversees DHS.
After the judgment was announced, The Villager reached out to Jurinsky, who told us, “I don’t expect to see $3 million, and it was never about the money, but I’m happy with judge Volz for making this statement. The real fight is with Arapahoe County, with whom I still have an open suit. They’ve done nothing. It’s a systematic problem. There is a gross failure to supervise.”
Addressing the events that led up to the suit, Jurinsky pointed out, “As soon as she (Niceta) made these charges against me, and before they were even entered into the system, she asked to be the case worker on the case. That should have been a red flag,” although, she noted, “My case was assigned to someone else.”
Jurinsky described what followed, telling us, “When DHS contacted me, I explained that this was retaliation. They knew who I was. They knew Robin (Niceta) was Wilson’s partner. Nevertheless, they came to my home, they went to my son’s school, they talked to his pediatrician, they even talked to my employees, keeping me under this heinous cloud for 15 days. It was egregious. It was horrifying. I couldn’t look at my son without crying. I didn’t know how it would turn out. Those 15 days seemed like forever. They couldn’t prove anything happened but I couldn’t prove it didn’t.”
She continued, “My son was only two years old. The caseworker tried to interview him. She did not realize his age. She told me, ‘That’s not what’s in my notes.’ She didn’t even have my correct address. Arapahoe County DHS is a mess. When this happened, I didn’t know who she was or who her girlfriend was, but DHS knew. Then she (Niceta) asked to work on my case. How could DHS have not connected the dots? How could the supervisor there not have realized what was happening? As far as I know, nothing has changed over there. Too many people are unwilling to do anything.”
Regarding Niceta, Jurinsky told The Villager, “I’m hoping she ends up in prison. She is already charged with two separate felonies and it could still evolve.”
There is also a pending class action suit against DHS that was filed two days before Jurinsky’s, last August 22. It seeks $50 million in damages for numerous instances of dishonest behavior by DHS employees leading to inappropriate separations of parents and children.